Obama’s IT ‘trauma team’ and recruiting Silicon Valley

Photo: U.S. Health & Human Services
Photo: U.S. Health & Human Services

Steven Brill has a great in-depth, behind-the-scenes write-up on the HealthCare.gov IT aftermath and the team that helped steer the project to success.

Brill’s “Obama’s Trauma Team” features U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, Obama fix-it man Jeff Zients, presidential innovation fellows, venture capitalist John Doerr, members of Obama’s campaign tech team and some of Silicon Valley’s brightest entrepreneurs.

For those who suggest that Silicon Valley is ambivalent about working with or for government, Brill offers a glimmer of hope that this may not be the case. Anyone who really wants to fix Washington’s IT problem and believes higher engagement from San Francisco Bay Area’s tech community would go a long way in helping to solve these issues, this excerpt sums up the sentiment and how it can be convinced to help:

Had the Obama team brought in its old campaign hands in the first place to run the launch, there would have been howls about cronyism. But one lesson of the fall and rise of HealthCare.gov has to be that the practice of awarding high-tech, high-stakes contracts to companies whose primary skill seems to be getting those contracts rather than delivering on them has to change. “It was only when they were desperate that they turned to us,” says Dickerson. “I have no history in government contracting and no future in it … I don’t wear a suit and tie … They have no use for someone who looks and dresses like me. Maybe this will be a lesson for them. Maybe that will change.”

In the way the team dropped everything to help and then stayed as long as it took, there’s also a lesson about what John Doerr calls “the myth that everyone in Silicon Valley is a selfish narcissist.” In one way or another, every member of the team told me the same thing–that this was the toughest but most rewarding project of their lives.

“The two months I spent on this were harder and more intense than the 17 months I spent on the campaign,” says Burt, who like Dickerson initially thought he was going to be working for free. “But I loved every minute of it … I believe in getting people health care. I am so proud of this.”

Perhaps as Code for America’s Catherine Bracy said in her Personal Democracy Forum 2013 talk, they’re just waiting to be asked.

“The inconvenient truth is that there are brilliant minds in Silicon Valley who give a sh**, and we need to give them the opportunities to make a change in the world,” says Bracy. “Yes, Silicon Valley has problems, but solutionism, this idea that the only tools they’re building are meaningless, that only is true if we allow it to be true … Let’s start pulling those people who care in instead of pushing them out.”

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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